Oh, this movie made me laugh. I find Woody Allen incredibly funny, more so than others do, I've discovered. This film in particular was such an observation of character that I clung to every word and gesture. Vicky and Doug absolutely cracked me up, so did Cristina and Juan Antonio, and obviously Maria Elena.
There is a very specific chatter that takes place in between the real dialogue that mocks every overheard conversation ever to have taken place between girls of the young-and-privileged-enough-to-choose-to-be-in-Barcelona-for-a-summer-before-I-start-my-real-life crowd. The opening conversations with Vicky's aunt and uncle are pointedly accurate. If you have ever traveled in Europe for an extended amount of time you know to what I'm referring... the small talk, the found excitement, the obligatory exchange of pleasantries over a stunning yet thrown together dinner. You are sampling the wine of the region, you must try this market, where did you study, etc. So funny when regurgitated on the silver screen.
The center story in Vicky Cristina is the old tale of complicated relationships. Yet, what Allen quite purposefully slices and serves is a realization that the relationships really aren't complicated at all. The comfortable and boring husband, the attempted threesome, the passionate one night affair, the actual threesome, the unhappy marriage. Meh. The people are slightly messed up... slightly... but the relationships are cut, dry, clear and present.
Penelope Cruz is phenomenal as Maria Elena, the infamous ex-wife of Juan Antonio, whom she once tried to kill. She is crazy in just the right places, darling in all the rest. (You went through my luggage!? cries Christina. Of course I went through your luggage, I didn't trust you! Maria Elena fires back.) She ignites a passion in this film and steals both the screen and the bedroom from dear Scarlett. We eat it up.
Doug enters as a comic relief with his pressed khaki pants and flat screen TiVo enthusiasm. He's generic America, says Allen. Laugh at him! Vicky dips into self-inflicted romantic conflict all-too-naive for any of us to really take seriously. We care about her and completely embrace her good intentions, but that's about it. Rebecca Hall nails this role.
Scarlett Johansson as Cristina does unexpectedly strike a cord in this film that hits us like a punch. She is the girl who is doing exactly what she wants in every way without really knowing ultimately what she wants. The vagabond. We discover that this careless, endlessly accepting, make-love-not-war heroine actually wants a coarse. Cristina moves to Barcelona with Vicky after writing, directing, and staring in an eleven minute film about love (funny.) and hating its completed form. So she dabbles in photography, explores the streets of Spain, searches in every nook and cranny for the real Cristina. Tale as old as time. And even after a perfect love affair with the generous and handsome Juan Antonio and his ex-wife Maria Elena... she is still kind of floating. We are left wanting more, wanting affirmation that Cristina found herself in Barcelona... that the salty Spanish air was just what she needed to jump start her life! But Woody Allen pulls away this gratification from both her and us, just as Lucy swipes the football from poor Charlie Brown. He does it on purpose.
And as narrated in the final scene, so humorous in its muses' faces, slowly descending the escalator out of Barcelona... Vicky returned home to have her grand wedding to Doug. To the house they finally decided to settle in. And to lead the life she envisioned for herself before that summer in Barcelona. Cristina continued searching... certain only, of what she didn't want.